Published: 02-02-2024 15:02 | Updated: 05-02-2024 12:51

In memory of Leif Bertilsson, professor emeritus

Portrait photo of Leif Bertilsson, professor emeritus.
In memory of Leif Bertilsson, professor emeritus. Photo: Private

Professor Emeritus Leif Bertilsson at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, has passed away at the age of 80.

We mourn the passing of Professor Emeritus Leif Bertilsson on January 28 at the age of 80. Raised in the coastal towns of Ängelholm and Kalmar, Sweden, he earned a master's degree in organic chemistry at Stockholm University in 1968. 

Leif Bertilsson's interest in depression research began when he joined the transdisciplinary group at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, led by Associate Professor Folke Sjöqvist and Professors Börje Cronholm and Bo Holmstedt. In 1974, Leif defended a groundbreaking pharmacology PhD thesis, demonstrating the utility of a mass fragmentographic technique in identifying and quantifying biomarkers in the cerebrospinal fluid of depressed patients.

From 1974 to 1976, Leif conducted research on psychotropic drug effects on neurotransmission at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington, D.C., alongside Professor Erminio Costa. Returning to KI, he steadily advanced, becoming an associate professor in 1977 and professor in experimental clinical pharmacology in 1996 and was active as emeritus researcher from 2010.

Leif's intuitive application of chemistry to human drug metabolism, coupled with his curiosity, positioned him among the top 100 cited researchers in pharmacology globally since 2002. Over the years, Leif supervised over 40 PhD students, hosted 30 postdocs, and facilitated numerous international collaborations, particularly with researchers in Africa, China, Japan and Spain.

His research spanned diverse topics, from studying suicide risk in depressed patients to exploring the clinical applications of drug metabolites in treating facial neuralgia and depression. In his later years, Leif delved into understanding how drug effects vary between individual patients and ethnic groups. Leif's meticulous approach to drug action principles and his ability to initiate and sustain fruitful collaborations transcended geographical and disciplinary boundaries. 

His mind for details and thorough understanding of drug action principles in physiological systems was evident to generations of researchers and clinical pharmacologists; generously and eagerly discussed over international lunch meetings, at seminars or through spontaneous corridor consultations. 

Leif was a master to initiate and keep long and productive collaborations with clinicians in neurology, pediatrics and psychiatry and with laboratories and drug companies. 

His meticulous planning and care for details extended beyond research, as he became an eminent chef and host when his family invited students and guest researchers to their home. Leif, a devoted tennis player, cherished his weekly sessions and had a deep love for sea life and fishing on the island Marsö at the Baltic Sea. 

Leif´s personality, thoughtfulness and contributions will be remembered by all of us. Leif showed us that successful research and development thrive on teamwork, emphasizing the importance of both local and global collaborations.

Leif Bertilsson is mourned by his wife Brit Marie, daughter Anna and her family, sister Inga-Lill and her family, relatives, friends, and colleagues in Sweden and around the world. 

For students, colleagues, and collaborators around the world.

Marja-Liisa Dahl
Professor, Director of Clinical Services
Karolinska University Hospital                                    

Georgios Panagiotidis
Senior lecturer, Head of Division of Clinical Pharmacology
Karolinska Institutet

Eleni Aklillu, Ulf Bergman, Ulf Diczfalusy, Erik Eliasson, Lars L Gustafsson, Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg, Anders Rane
Professors and emeriti-/senior professors at Karolinska Institutet